Frederick County’s emergency response to biolab incidents to be aired -- Gazette.Net


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Are first responders and public-health officials prepared if a dangerous virus is on the loose in Frederick? That’s the focus of a panel discussion in the city on Tuesday night.

“Emergency Response and High Containment Laboratories at Fort Detrick and in the County,” sponsored by the Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee, will feature Jack Markey, director of the county Division of Emergency Management; Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, head of the Frederick County Health Department; and two scientists from Fort Detrick’s U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID.

Lt. Col. Neal Woollen, chief of safety, security and biosurety, and Col. Mark Withers, a physician who heads the occupational health program, will answer questions about general practices at high-containment labs, not just USAMRIID, according to CLAC’s Chairwoman Beth Willis.

The committee sponsored a similar program in June 2011, but Willis said it was not as effective as she had hoped. This year’s program will be much more focused on issues the community needs to know, she said.

“ Last year, we had a cast of thousands — people from emergency management, the health department and the police. They talked about everything they do to plan for safety, and we realized that ... people’s eyes were glazing over,” Willis said. “This year, we are keeping it simple.”

The panel will talk about how the community will be informed if an emergency arises involving pathogens that escape from labs at Fort Detrick, as well as private biolabs outside of the post.

Brookmyer said the committee wants her to address what the communication and protocols the public can expect from the health department, and how to access that information.

When asked if there is currently a formal notification process in place between the health department and the biolabs in case of an emergency, Brookmyer said: “That is something they [Detrick officials] will have to answer. I can’t speak for them.”

USAMRIID is on on federal property, but is subject to state laws that require reporting to the county’s emergency management director and the state Biological Agents Registry whenever there is a “breach of containment of a biological agent that poses an immediate threat to an individual’s health and safety.”

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Tuesday at Frederick’s City Hall, 101 N. Court St.

kheerbrandt@gazette.net